FORESTRY IN JEFFERSON COUNTY.
Hon. D. C. MIDDLETON
When asked to write about “Forestry” in Jefferson County, the first thing that comes to one’s mind to say is
:—“But there is none! “ Second thought, however, throws a different light on the subject. A well known authority
describes forestry: as “any treatment of any woodlands or prospective woodlands,” and from this standpoint there
must be a very large amount of forestry going on in Jefferson County, since about one fifth of the county is wooded,
and all, or nearly all, of the woods are treated in some way; very poorly some time perhaps but still treated.
Like the rest of the state, this county when first opened to settlement, about 1800, was completely covered by
forests, save only where the Indian had cleared some small field, or the beaver dam had killed the trees on some
few acres, as at Castorland, which was named for the beaver.
The early surveyors describe the forest in some detail, the larger part being reported as hardwood, i. e. beech,
birch, maple, ash, elm, basswood, hickory. ironwood. some chestnut. etc., with hemlock, and in the higher Southeastern
part some spruce. Cedar, as at present, was found on lower Black River and the lake; and a fine stand of pine between
Black River and the River St. Lawrence, especially on the “Pine Plains” North and East of the present towns of
Felts Mills and Great Bend.
The early settler, however, did not wish forests, but farms, and his axe ard clearing fires ate their way slowly
but surely into the wildnemess of trees. In each settlement the first move was to erect a saw mill, and in many
places a potash plant wherein the ashes from the clearings were converted into money, and each man made the first
payments on his land from these two sources—logs and ashes of logs. It is often said that the forests were wasted
by the early settlers, without stopping to think that nature wastes just as much forest each year as it produces.
A great deal of forestry is actually practiced by many good farmers, who would not be able to tell you what the
word “forestry” means. The leading forestal practice, and the one in which the farmer approaches nearer to scientific
forestry, is in the sugar bush.
On a well managed farm, the trees in the sugar bush receive a good deal of attention. Those that stiow signs of
decay, and any trees of kinds other than maple which are crowding the sugar trees themselves, are removed; and
fallen timber are gathered together as fuel for the kettler or evaporator. Such a sugar bush presents an excellent
appearance to the eye of the trained forester; and in some of the best ones but a few improvements in management
could be suggested. The area might in some cases be more thoroughly covered with trees, as the natural stand is
inclined to be irregular; and more provision might be made for renewing the supply of trees as the large ones are
killed by accident or disease; but on the whole the sugar bush on our best class of farms shows excellent management.
Of wood lots other than sugar bushes, there ae also examples of excellent management to be found, but they are
not in the majority Even in the best kept woods. very little provision is made for the supply of trees when the
ones now standing are gone. In fact the owners ‘who seem to give their woods the most care have provided least
in some cases for a renewal of the forest. Their method of treatment is to cut out yearly for fire wood, posts.
etc., all trees that show signs of decay, or have been killed, leaving the most healthy trees to grow. There is
a decided lack, however, of trees less than a foot in diameter: then from year to year the stand of trees becomes
thinner, until some of the woods have the appearance of parks.
This lack of young growth is largely due to the custon of pasturing cattle in the woods, which destroys all young
trees. Some portion of each woodlot should be entirely shut off from pasture long enough for the young trees to
grow beyond the reach of the cattle; and when the first portion is old enough to be safe another portion should
be given a rest, thus a continual supply of trees would be obtained.
But by far the larger portion of the woods of the county are treated with a thoughtlessness which is surprising
considering their value. Each year men are sent into the woods to cut firewood, posts, rails, etc., which are needed
on the farm, and usually some extra for sale. As the best trees are the easiest to handle, they are usually selected,
and the wonder is that after years of such practice there are any woods left as it is, whole wood lots may be found
in which it is difficult to find a single sound straight tree.
If the farmer would spend a few dollars and a little time each year in planting waste corners and bare places in
his woodlot with such valuable trees as the white pine or the black walnut, and would give the natural trees a
chance, he could in the course of years, create a forest of greater value than the farm lands themselves; for there
can be no doubt that an acre of suitable soil planted in white pine will be worth over two hundred dollars in the
course of twenty to forty years.
The Forest, Fish and Game Commission has given the people of Jefferson County a chance to observe the growth of
a planted forest on the state land at Canoe Point in the River St. Lawrence opposite Clayton. The trees here used
were mainly hard woods, the larger part being oak, with a few acres each of locust, chestnut, black walnut, willow
and poplar or aspen. Only a few pine were used to cover some rocky soil. It is a little too soon to claim success
for this experiment, but should the trees thrive as well as their forest condition indicates, far-sighted land-owners
will surely see the excellence of the investment offered by tree planting, and the coming years will see this county
growing more valuable forests than were found by its first explorers.
Already one of Watertown’s leading business men, Mr. Charles Remington, has taken up the raising of spruce for
the supply of his large paper mills in St. Lawrence county. After inspecting the state plantations near Saranac,
Mr. Remington was so greatly impressed with the practicability of the idea that he started at once on a large scale,
planting during the past month over half a million young spruce trees on about three hundred acres of land. This
plantation shows every sign of success, but should every tree die within a month Mr. Remingtons' name would long
be remembered as a leader in a movement which is absolutely certain to assume immense proportions, just as it has
done in Germany, France, and other European countries; providing only that civilization and progress continue in
this country of ours.
Let us keep Jefferson County in the lead in this direction, as we have always done in all things which make for
progress and prosperity.